TV Upfront

Reporter's Notebook: Here's How You'll Pay This Upfront

CBS Unveils a New Saturday-Night Strategy, and Koonin Charms Crowd at the Turner Presentation

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Let the games begin!

No one seems to scoff at the notion that advertisers will have to submit to some pretty hefty price increases this upfront. Ultimately, ad buyers confide that clients may be looking at increases of at least 10% in the cost of reaching 1,000 viewers.

Will TV honchos and ad buyers agree on that figure immediately? Of course not. We think the TV networks will start by asking for CPM price hikes of 15% or more. Meantime, look for ad buyers to commence negotiations by demanding CPMs of between 7% and 9%. After all, you have to at least tell your client you tried, right? Greedier networks that insist on CPM increases of 16% to 18% will find themselves stuck at the bargaining table, while TV outlets able to nod toward increases higher than 9% and lower than 14% will likely find their business brisk.

CBS'S SATURDAY EXPERIMENT
CBS is going to try to do something that has become all but unthinkable in the modern TV world: Run original episodes on Saturday evenings.

The network will start to run original episodes of "Rules of Engagement," on Saturdays in the fall at 8 p.m., followed by a comedy repeat, a crime-drama repeat and "48 Hours Mystery" at 10 p.m. Kelly Kahl, CBS's head of scheduling, suggested the idea was a test to see whether audiences would appreciate something new early on in the night, and indeed, CBS would most likely seek to charge advertisers a higher price for "Rules" than it would for the reruns that will flank it.

But something else may be afoot here. CBS also pays close attention to its shows' aftermarket potential. And while "Rules" has been on since 2007 -- finishing its fifth season this year -- it certainly couldn't hurt CBS all that much to get a few more original episodes into the boob-tube pipeline that could make the program more attractive to others, such as overseas distributors.

Conan O' Brien and other TNT and TBS talent at the Turner presentation.
Conan O' Brien and other TNT and TBS talent at the Turner presentation. Credit: Kevin Mazur for Wireimage

STEVE KOONIN SAVES THE DAY
Every once in a while, a TV network stages an upfront presentation that stumbles rather than soars. In 2006, Fox put on a three-hour tedium-fest in a sweltering New York armory that alternately puzzled, offended and disappointed the crowd. Time Warner 's Turner ran into a similar situation last week when the video went out at its 2011 upfront presentation. Late-night host and TBS centerpiece Conan O' Brien grew noticeably cranky when the video didn't stream during one of his bits, and then things grew more dire. Ready to show highlights of new shows set to run on TNT and TBS, Turner found itself unable to offer the audience of advertisers (and top Time Warner executives such as CEO Jeff Bewkes and Turner head Phil Kent) a visual sampling of its coming wares.

Enter Steve Koonin. The overseer of TBS, TNT, Tru and Turner Classic Movies, Mr. Koonin is known for a sense of humor and a willingness to try new things. (On TV, for example, he has run promos that talk over the show during which they air.) Mr. Koonin needed all his wiles Wednesday. He cajoled, joked, roamed the stage, and even asked people to sing. The efforts were appreciated by a crowd ready to make its way to the exits. Ray Romano, star of TNT's "Men of a Certain Age," came out later and did an impromptu stand-up routine, but it was Mr. Koonin who may have saved the day -- and maybe even the fiscal year for the company.

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